When an Over-Hyped Beer Totally Under-Delivers


Some of you will cringe when I say this, but hype usually makes things seem better, at least for a little while.

Being pumped up about an experience or a product can place a set of rose-colored glasses firmly on your face, which blind you to some of the shortcomings you might experience.  There’s a reason advertising is a 37 billion dollar industry in America.

While hype fades over time – most people eventually come back down to earth and judge even the shiniest of things on their merits – this reality check doesn’t always happen with beer, especially those that are in short supply.

After all, you probably only get 15 minutes a year with a hard-to-find beer, which leaves little time to see past the rosy hue of hype – unless another beer comes and smacks those silly goggles off of your face.

That’s exactly what happened to me on Saturday night. 

I had two super-rare barrel-aged imperial stouts on hand; a 22-ounce bomber of Firestone Walker Parabola, and a 12-ounce bottle of another much-hyped and long ballyhooed brew.  I’m not going to name the second beer, because its brewer was kind enough to send it along at my request, and I don’t want to kick them in the nether regions for helping me out.  I can make my point without pointing fingers.

I started the evening with the 2013 Firestone Walker Parabola, aged in Four Roses Bourbon barrels.  It was simply exquisite, with sweet and rich threads of chocolate and vanilla leading the way, and deep nuances of coffee, tobacco, caramel, and dark fruit to explore in every sip.  I’m a barrel-aged beer hound, and this Parabola is one of the best examples of the breed I’ve had in quite a long while.  I shared it with my wife, who immediately asked if there was more, like right after her first taste.

We finished our glasses while watching Argo (a suspenseful movie about people standing in line), and I decided to go crazy and open up the 12-ounce bottle of the other stuff.  It seemed decadent to drink two rare beers back-to-back, but I figured why not go for broke?  What I didn’t figure is that the second beer would pale in comparison to the Parabola.

And boy did it.  It tasted like home brew.  MY home brew, which is mostly a mess. After a couple of sips, I asked my wife how she liked it, and she just squinched up her nose and wiggled her head side-to-side.  No good.

If the Parabola was classical music, the other brew wasn’t jazz or even a gutsy punk song – it was Chocolate Rain.  It was rough and unfocused.  It was noise in a bottle.

I used to LOVE this beer, and have sung its praises in the past.  It tastes the same now as it did when I first tried it, but I’ve sampled many excellent beers over the intervening years, and it simply no longer lives up to the hype it enjoys.

Drinking it right behind the wonderful Parabola certainly helped me to come to this conclusion (if I were a Russian oligarch, I’d have a golden faucet of that stuff in every room of my palatial mountain stronghold), but I think I’d have tasted the disappointment even without the comparison.

As the industry grows and brewers become more sophisticated, we’ll see some of our former idols being eclipsed by a better breed of beer.  While it’s sad that I’m ready to walk away from this once-adored brew, I’m happy that it hasn’t fallen victim to diminishing quality or its brewer not being able to make ends meet – it’s a victim of a vital and thriving beer scene that’s creating beers that are more wonderful than the wonders of the past.

As beer geeks, these are the problems we want to have.

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Categories: Beer, review


Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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31 Comments on “When an Over-Hyped Beer Totally Under-Delivers”

  1. johnking82
    May 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    1. Parabola isn’t super rare, it’s pretty easy to get honestly.
    2. There is a beer called Chocolate Rain by the Bruery and it’s amazing, another barrel-aged stout.
    3. I’m awesome.

    • May 8, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

      1. Parabola is super-rare out here, and if it’s easy to get, then get the hell out of it!! 2. I know, but I couldn’t resist the reference. 3. I begrudgingly agree, if only to shut you up.

      • johnking82
        May 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

        I miss your face.

        • May 8, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

          So does my wife, or at least part of it – I recently added a beard…

  2. May 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    Not sure what the other beer was, but not sure that it would matter much. Parabola is a spectacular beer. It’s expertly crafted. In my tiny mind, it pretty much defines what the word craft in craft beer means. This year’s version should be hitting our area this week or next. I always stock up on it when it hits the shelf. It’s available here, but it tends to go fast.

    • May 8, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

      If I see it in these parts, I’m stocking up like the zombie apocalypse is neigh…

  3. May 8, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    First – thanks for helping me out with tonight’s bottling drudgery. I had great intentions of bottling Sunday or Monday night but countless and unanticipated issues came up requiring the glorious event to be postponed until tonight. Not the least of which was the difficulty I was having in selecting a proper bottling beer – something I could sip throughout the process and appreciate through an evolving mirror of perspective. Parabola it is! I also have a couple 2012 FW Sucabas in the Aging Portal. If things don’t go well (i.e., I’m half way through and forget to prepare the priming sugar requiring an intermission) I may open that one as well.

    Anyway, Your point is well taken. I came to the same conclusions in my post on higher craft beer standards. The standard bearers of yesteryear have, for the most part, long been pushed further and further from the end caps but they remain anchors – stalwart reminders of how far craft beer has come. SN Pale & Anchor Steam can’t compete, hop for hop, with the new Arrogance, Plinies & Heady Toppers but they still deserve plenty of respect – even if they won’t be poured from a can with a magically disappearing top.

    Oh, and do we get to guess how many initials that unnamed 12 oz bottle goes by???


    • May 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

      Some of the bar-raising also comes from broader distribution. I’m sure someone in Northern California could’ve told me how crude my over-hyped beer was years ago – it took this long for their goodies to get to NJ for me to figure it out for myself.

      And I have no idea what you’re talking about when you say initials. Next you’ll want to guess a state, a meal and a beer style. 😉

  4. May 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    I can’t imagine what would stand up after Parabola. All I can think of is maybe you were drinking something like a World-Wide Stout and it didn’t stand out as they’re both imp stouts. Whatever. The first beer almost always affects how the second beer tastes.

    Hey, don’t you write about your displeasure over hyped beers once a week?

    • May 8, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

      Not the past couple of weeks – I’ve barely written here at all!

      I have a new gig writing for a restaurant magazine, and my deadline sucked up most of my bandwidth lately.

      You know, sharing my displeasure with over hyped beers in print… 🙂

  5. Bryce
    May 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Do you think you would have had the same reaction if you’d drunk the beers in reverse order? Without knowing what the other beer was, I have to wonder if you were reacting more to just having had your taste buds slapped around by the big barrel bomb.

    • May 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

      I thought about that Bryce, and concluded that I would have, but the difference might not be so glaring. I’m glad I had the Parabola first, because it’s smooth as silk, while the second beer was a peppery mess, and that’s coming from a guy who loves boozy-hot brews. It would’ve blown out the sensors required to appreciate the wonders of the Parabola.

  6. Kid Carboy Jr.
    May 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    If you email me the disappointing beer name, I promise not to share it with the world.

    • May 8, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

      Promises, promises! 😉

  7. May 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    Having just thoroughly enjoyed what is most likely your disappointment beer, I need to find Parabola immediately. I know where it should be, the question is only when it will show up.

    • May 8, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      It should be showing up soon, and you should buy two. Unless you live in New Jersey, in which case you should hide it behind the Bud Light and let me know what store it’s in. 🙂

      • May 8, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

        Are you having that much difficulty finding it here? I can probably grab a couple for you down in Iggle Burbs Territory. Let me know

        • May 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

          I haven’t looked, actually. The one I had Saturday night came from the folks at FW, and their boxed beers have been very hit-or-miss in recent times. Either you don’t see a Firestone Fifteen, or there are six sitting on the shelf. Up to now, I haven’t seen a Parabola in the wild.

          I’d buy it by the case if I could!

        • May 8, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

          It’s on shelves? I heard next week, but if this is the case then I may be SOL.

      • May 8, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

        I am in NJ, but I from what I’ve seen it won’t hit shelves until next week at the earliest. I figure the same places that got Stone’s recent releases will be on the list for Parabola as well, even if it is a different distributor.

        • May 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

          Yup, diferent distributor, which can mean different relationships. I’d keep an eye on places that had Wookie Jack.

        • May 9, 2013 at 7:10 am #

          Luckily, that’s the same place. They actually still had Wookey Jack as of a few days ago, I’ll keep an eye out for Parabola. Cheers!

        • May 10, 2013 at 8:56 am #

          I stand corrected (confused actually). I saw Parabola at the PourHouse and Sucaba & XVI at Wineworks.

  8. Brendan
    May 8, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    It’s hard for an over-hyped beer to deliver. Much safer to deliver low expectations and exceed them, seems like a great deal, than to set high expectations and have folks feeling ripped off.

    • May 8, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

      It’s weirder when it’s an over-hyped beer you’ve had and loved in the past. It means you’re a victim of your own hype and inexperience.

      This happens to me frequently, and in many endeavors.

  9. randy
    May 8, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    I tend to avoid all things “Critically Acclaimed”

    • May 8, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

      Well then you’ve missed out on the HBO show *Girls*, the French film *Amour*, and the Lois Lowry novel *The Giver*.

      In other words, you’re doing something right! 🙂

  10. May 9, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    In re: over-hyped. I have some experience in this space. I was stationed at Keesler AFB on the Mississippi Gulf Coast back in 1964, when Coors wasn’t distributed east of the Mississippi river. A friend and I would drive to Texas in his Econoline van on a Friday night, load up all the Coors we could afford, drive back to Keesler and then sell it at a dollar a can on Saturday. We never failed to sell out and made quite a bit o’ money, too.


    • May 10, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

      That’s a great story! I turned 21 in 1990 and Coors was still relatively new in the Northeast and it was one of my favorites for a while. Remember Smokey and the Bandit was about smuggling Coors from Texas to Georgia… good times… good times… 🙂 I’m all better now…

      • May 11, 2013 at 11:04 am #

        I never saw Smokey and the Bandit, Sean. I think mebbe I should. 🙂

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